The NFL Draft has finally arrived, which mean’s pro football’s “Silly Season” will officially come to an end tonight (or at least until the first way too early mock draft comes out during next season). But before that happens, let’s take one last crack at it now that the final meetings and private visits are over.

The conclusion I’ve come to at the end of this draft process is the Steelers have the highest interest in these three players with the 25th overall pick, based on the amount of exposure and face-to-face contact the team has had with all of the prospects they’ve scouted:

1) Houston cornerback William Jackson III

2) Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings

3) West Virginia safety Karl Joseph

The trick of it is, there’s a strong possibility the first two could be gone by the time the Steelers make their pick.

At least four teams — beginning with New Orleans, Oakland, Tennessee and Cincinnati — could potentially select a cornerback before the Steelers do in the first round, and that’s not counting any possible trades, including the Cleveland Browns with the eighth overall pick. Any of those scenarios may force Pittsburgh’s hand to go yet another draft without a first-round selection at the cornerback position.

There are six teams with first round picks that I think could affect what happens when the Steelers are finally on the clock: San Francisco (seventh), Cleveland (eighth), Tennessee (15th), New York Jets (20th), and Washington (21st) and Cincinnati (24th).

There are some that believe that Mackensie Alexander (Clemson), Eli Apple (Ohio State) and Artie Burns (Miami) are good alternatives at cornerback should Jackson already be gone. But some analysts have soured on Apple’s ability to support the run and thereby questioned as a viable early starter, and Burns is considered by some to be “fast and athletic, but too raw.” Others are put off by Alexander’s lack of production during his final season (i.e. zero interceptions), although head coach Mike Tomlin dismissed the notion of letting production outweigh what coaches see on game film during the Steelers’ pre-draft press conference.

I know what you’re thinking while you’re reading this: He’s stalling. And you’re right. The truth is I have no idea what’s going to happen.

There are two scenarios flashing back and forth in my head. One is where the board breaks exactly the Steelers way and they bring back the corner they (and seemingly more and more of the fanbase) wants in Jackson. The other is where another team wants him just as much, takes him in the top 15 picks, and then Billings goes within the top 20, leaving Joseph (or one of the aforementioned cornerback alternatives) remaining at 25th.

The latter scenario is getting more and more airtime in my cerebral cortex. In which case, I will assume chaos reigns and the Steelers choose Joseph, who could be a starter by mid-season. He’s in the homestretch of rehabbing from an ACL injury, but Joseph is the perfect combination of physicality, athleticism, production and maturity that they’re looking for at the strong safety position.

If my chaos theory does indeed happen, I expect the Steelers to conservatively use their top pick to choose the safety option that’s more of a long-term sure thing than a cornerback (Alexander, Apple, Burns) that might only sound better in the short term. And if we’ve learned anything about the Steelers draft history in the first round, they like to go with the sure option that they know more about.

But then again, what do I know? I’m expecting total chaos.

(Stay tuned for the Day 2 portion of my Mock Draft 3.0 after the conclusion of Round 1 Thursday night.)

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Pittsburgh Steelers